Memorial garden, festival honor mentor


CHANA – Michelle Rogers looks at home digging in the dirt.

As bugs swarmed on a recent warm afternoon, Rogers, a science teacher at Stillman Valley High School, planted daylilies and weeded a plot of land at Hidden Timber Gardens, 462 S. Chana Rd.

“It’s just a passion of mine,” she said. “I love plants and flowers.”

But the flowers she was planting weren’t just any flowers. They are daylilies that were hybridized by the late Robert Ellison, who owned Ellison Perennials in Rockford.

Rogers worked for Ellison, who died last fall, while going to college, and now wants to help continue his legacy.

To that end, the new Ellison Memorial Daylily Garden will have its grand opening at Hidden Timber Gardens during the Daylily Bloomfest July 13-14. The actual ribbon cutting will be on July 13 at 11 a.m.

Rogers said the goal is to, “continue his breeding and showcasing his life’s work.”

Rogers said after graduating from Stillman Valley High School, she worked for Ellison while going to college. She said she did everything from potting plants to helping with landscaping jobs.

“I also helped him with the daylily hybridizing, and every July he would have what he called Daylily Bloomfest,” she said.

That was a way to showcase his award-winning daylilies. Rogers said people would come from all over to look at and buy his flowers, including bus tours from garden groups. People had the opportunity to dig the plants right out of the ground and add them to their own garden.

And these were very unique daylilies, she said. Ellison was “pretty famous” for the ruffles on his flowers.

“He was well known for that, and he won some different awards,” Rogers said.

Before he died, Rogers said Ellison gave her many of his flowers and plants. She told him that she was going to do this memorial garden for him.

So, she reached out to Hidden Timber Gardens, where she works in the summer when she is not teaching.

“She’s got the plants and I have the land,” said Monica Putnam, who owns Hidden Timber Gardens along with her husband, Jim Williams.

Bloomfest will give people a chance to own one of the hybrids Ellison was known for. The event will also feature vendors selling local products, door prizes and raffle drawings. There will also be master gardeners on site to answer any questions.

The daylilies bloom in July, so the timing will be perfect for Bloomfest.

“When they are blooming is when people want to come out and dig,” Putnam said. “Because they can actually see what the plant looks like.”

Rogers said having the memorial garden and continuing Bloomfest is a way for her to keep the memory of Ellison alive.

 “It kind of helps fills my cup, if that makes sense,” she said. “He was a mentor of sorts for me, in terms of loving plants and gardening.”